‘Good to be alive’: Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee’s outstanding journey from sickness to the Olympics

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After successful six gold medals as MVP of the 2018 Asian Video games in Jakarta, 18-year-old swimmer Rikako Ikee was driving excessive and poised for glory on the world stage on the 2020 Olympics in her hometown.

Only a few quick months later, nevertheless, Ikee discovered herself preventing for her life — she was identified with acute lymphocytic leukemia in February 2019. When Ikee disclosed her sickness in a publish on social media, the shock among the many Japanese public was immense.

Right here was a younger athlete in her prime and on her technique to possible turning into a worldwide famous person, stricken with an endemic. Ikee’s announcement was front-page information in Japan and on tv.

Folks might solely shake their heads at Ikee’s dramatic reversal of fortune. It was the type of second that made many younger individuals take into consideration their very own mortality for the primary time. Ikee, a pupil at Nihon College, obtained an unimaginable outpouring of help from fellow athletes and followers.

WATCH | Outpouring of help for Ikee after leukemia prognosis:

Gold medallist Maggie Mac Neil of Canada and the two different medallists of the ladies’s 100m butterfly pay tribute to Rikako Ikee of Japan who revealed her leukemia prognosis earlier this 12 months. 0:30

Ikee, who had completed sixth within the 100-metre butterfly on the 2016 Rio Video games as a high-school freshman, stated on the time that she hoped to recuperate after remedy for her sickness and return to the pool to swim on the 2024 Paris Olympics. It was clear that even 18 months later she could be in no situation to swim on the Tokyo Video games.

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Extra from Tokyo 2020

Then, in a fully weird coincidence — a once-in-a-century pandemic — Ikee’s timetable was immediately prolonged by 12 months. Ikee, who emerged understandably frail from her profitable remedy, which included chemotherapy and 10 months within the hospital, performed down speak that she would try and swim at Tokyo 2020.

Ikee was launched from the hospital in January of 2020 and commenced coaching once more in March. She returned to the pool in late August after almost 600 days away and received her warmth within the 50m freestyle at a Tokyo meet.

Japan nationwide workforce coach Norimasa Hirai stated on the time that he was impressed by what he noticed of Ikee in her return.

“Some athletes have overlooked their objectives as a result of the Tokyo Olympics have been postponed,” Hirai instructed Japan Ahead sports activities editor Ed Odeven. “However for Rikako, overcoming sickness and making a comeback point out that she really loves swimming.

“I believe prime athletes not solely have the chance to comply with the ends in entrance of them, but additionally to ask themselves in regards to the significance of continuous to compete and develop [as athletes and individuals],” Hirai added.

Hirai felt that Ikee’s return would reverberate far past the pool.

“I believe her swim not solely provides everybody braveness, but additionally reveals us many issues, corresponding to the importance of continuous to compete and the braveness of human beings,” Hirai said.

The swimming world started stirring at this level.

WATCH | Ikee could possibly be subsequent swimming famous person:

18-year-old swimming phenom Rikako Ikee has been making waves within the swimming universe since she was fifteen. Competing within the 50, 100 and 200 metre freestyle occasions, she is a reputation to look out for forward of Tokyo 2020. 1:09

Was it doable that Ikee might truly be match sufficient to compete on the delayed Tokyo Olympics?

Ikee’s story was beginning to form up as the sort they make films about. She added to her legacy by successful 4 occasions (50m butterfly, 100m butterfly, 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle) on the Olympic trials this April in Tokyo.

Her victory within the 100m free certified her to take part within the 4x100m medley and 4x100m freestyle relays for Japan on the Olympics.

Eyeing nationwide information

Although her occasions weren’t quick sufficient to qualify her for the person occasions on the Video games beneath the Japan Swimming Federation’s guidelines, Ikee expressed satisfaction after rising from the pool in tears on the trials.

“I am thrilled I received 4 titles right here,” said Ikee, who started swimming at three. “Total, I believed my occasions have been superb. I went into these nationwide championships with an perspective I did not have up to now.”

Ikee’s performances had her fascinated about greater than victories.

“I believe I am getting nearer and nearer to breaking the Japan information I’ve,” Ikee stated. “Won’t occur immediately however I am getting there.”

Ikee celebrates after qualifying for the Olympics at nationwide trials in April. (Charly Triballeau/AFP by way of Getty Pictures)

Although she will not be swimming in particular person races on the Olympics, Ikee’s mere presence as a member of the relay groups will function inspiration for her teammates.

“She might be a really helpful member of the nation’s relay squads and the truth that she was capable of earn Olympic qualification in relay occasions is a testomony to her perseverance and pure expertise,” John Lohn, the editor in chief of Swimming World journal, remarked.

“Lacking the time she did whereas battling leukemia, her preliminary aim was to qualify for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. However she progressed faster than anticipated and was capable of earn a spot on the workforce that can compete on residence soil. It was not simply a formidable feat, however heart-warming to see. She has been extensively supported and cheered on by fellow opponents, and her story resonated world wide.

“Previous to her sickness, Rikako rated as one of many world’s elite performers within the 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly. She has spectacular vary and, had she not been affected by leukemia, would have certainly competed for particular person medals in Tokyo. Primarily based on her progress, she is going to possible be an element on the Paris Video games.”

Ikee competes within the 100 butterfly in April. (Iori Sagisawa/Kyodo Information by way of AP)

Ikee displayed her aggressive streak exterior the pool again in Could when anti-Olympics supporters started sending her messages on social media asking her to drop out of the Video games or oppose them because of the pandemic.

“Even if you would like me to oppose [holding the Olympics], nothing I say will change something,” Ikee wrote in Japanese on Twitter. “I share your want to emerge from this darkness as rapidly as doable, however to place that burden on the shoulders of particular person athletes could be very powerful.”

Ikee went on to clarify that she was coping with stress brought on by the continued pandemic attributable to her battle with leukemia.

“I’ve a persistent sickness, and whether or not the video games are held or not, I stay daily with the anxiousness of presumably [being infected with the coronavirus and] turning into severely sick,” Ikee wrote.

Olympic spirit on show

Odeven, who has labored in Japan for 15 years, and lined swimming on the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics, famous Ikee’s enchantment is far-reaching.

“Rikako Ikee is among the hottest Japanese athletes due to her perseverance and dedication to beat leukemia and attempt for excellence within the pool,” Odeven remarked. “Ikee’s dedication and laborious work resonate with individuals of all ages.”

When Ikee traces up for her legs within the Olympic relays, it will likely be an emotional second for each her and the legions of followers in Japan and overseas which have watched her comeback.

Pierre de Coubertin, the daddy of the fashionable Olympics, as soon as described his view of the spirit of the Video games at this: “A very powerful factor within the Olympic Video games just isn’t successful however collaborating; the important factor in life just isn’t conquering however preventing effectively.”

Ikee is a dwelling instance of this — and her story just isn’t over but.

In her remaining occasion earlier than the Olympics, Ikee and her teammates set a Japanese file within the 200 freestyle relay at a meet in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, on her twenty first birthday on July 4.

Reflecting on her epic journey over the previous 2-½ years, Ikee succinctly put it in perspective afterward.

“It was actually powerful,” Ikee commented. “I truthfully suppose it is good to be alive.”

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Written by bourbiza

Bourbiza Mohamed. Writer and Political Discourse Analysis.


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